4 Holistic Methods to Reduce Infertility Stress
This National Stress Awareness Month, we’re taking the opportunity to talk about the stress of infertility and what you can do about it.
Infertility & Stress
It’s no surprise that infertility causes stress. Especially as a woman, not being able to reproduce naturally can create feelings of shame, guilt, and low self-esteem. For many, infertility is also a silent burden. Even though 1 in 8 couples struggle to become pregnant or sustain pregnancy, most infertile women do not share with family or friends, which can make it even harder to cope.
The first battle is accessing assisted reproductive technologies like IVF, which can be very expensive if not covered. If you manage to access fertility treatments, the next battle is undergoing the treatments, which can be a very stressful process without the right support and tools. Because infertility has become very medicalized, fertility care tends to lack emotion for what couples experience, from distress to loss of control, stigmatization, and disrupted adult development. Unfortunately, this stress creates the opposite outcome as desired. Studies are discovering an association between stress of fertility treatment and patient drop-out and pregnancy rates.
But there is good news. Recent research has found psychological interventions to lower psychological distress and to be associated with significant increases in pregnancy rates. Psychological interventions that prioritize stress management and coping-skills training have particularly beneficial effects for infertility patients.
Here we’ll share 4 holistic methods to reduce your stress which are showing positive effects for women dealing with infertility.
Many would argue that mindfulness is at the heart of stress reduction and well-being, so it’s difficult to separate from other methods. Nonetheless, it’s an excellent place to start.
Mindfulness has been a part of Buddhist and other spiritual traditions for centuries, but its application in Western medical and mental health contexts began in the 1970s. The key elements of mindfulness are awareness and nonjudgmental acceptance of your moment-to-moment experience. The practice can help overcome rumination, anxiety, worry, fear, anger, and other distressing thoughts and emotions which we tend to avoid, suppress, or over-engage.
Mindfulness can have a life-changing impact on those who practise it, so it has huge potential to support women dealing with infertility. A recent study found a mindfulness-based program (MBP) for stress reduction to be effective in reducing stress and depressive symptoms and improving well-being in infertile women.
Bring it to your life
- Start a daily meditation practice – if you’re new to meditation, you can start with an app like Headspace (for the best variety), Calm (for less structured meditations), or Healthy Minds Program (for a free option)
- Use self-guided books to own your mindfulness practice – we recommend working through A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook
- Join a mindfulness-based program for stress reduction near you or online
2. Behavioural Treatment
Behavioural treatment can be a powerful way to treat the emotional aspects of infertility, and may even increase pregnancy rates. In a recent study, the first 54 women to complete a behavioural treatment program that was based on eliciting the relaxation response showed significantly reduced anxiety, depression, and fatigue, and increased vigour. 34% of this same group became pregnant within 6 months of the program.
One effective behavioural treatment is the Mind/Body Program for Infertility. Created and launched in September, 1987, the therapy gives patients skills in cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), relaxation training, lifestyle changes, journaling, self-awareness, and social support components. Mind/Body therapy has been proven to reduce stress and increase pregnancy rates. This figure demonstrates clearly that reducing stress is not only critical to your own well-being, but long-term can play a key role in conceiving your child. Domar et al. even recommend that couples with infertility consider behavioural treatment before or alongside reproductive technologies.
Bring it to your life
- Find a Mind/Body program near you
- Ask your doctor about starting cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) before or during your infertility treatments
- Start a daily journaling practice – set a small goal like a ½ page per day to start, and then adjust your goal as you see results
Traditional healing methods such as Yoga are becoming popular as effective non-pharmacological treatments for anxiety, depression, and psychological distress. Its far-reaching benefits can be easily applied to women dealing with infertility stress.
Yoga is a holistic lifestyle-based intervention that uses mind-body practices to regulate lifestyle. The key elements of a yogic lifestyle are: asanas (physical postures), pranayama (breathing techniques), meditation (mindfulness), relaxation techniques (yoga nidra, instant relaxation technique, quick relaxation technique, deep relaxation technique), yogic counselling, and chanting (Om, A, U, M, AUM). A recent study saw improved anxiety scores post-yoga intervention.
Bring it to your life
- Find a local yoga studio and go at least once a week to start, but don’t limit yourself if you have the time
- Follow a yoga instructor online if you prefer to practise at home – we recommend Five Parks Yoga (free)
- For a deep dive into the Yoga tradition, take a yoga instructor’s training – you can find a local training or take a few-week trip and get certified abroad
4. Spiritual Psychotherapy
Spiritual psychotherapy can also be a powerful tool to deal with stress. Logotherapy is an existential psychotherapy used on patients with psychological and mental disorders. It centres around self-transcendence, which increases one’s sense of purpose, and in turn improves well-being and the ability to cope with suffering and stress. This approach believes life fulfilment is the best defence against emotional instability. Logotherapy helps people break through their expectations and disappointments. Moreover, if you’re struggling with infertility, this therapy can improve your ability to find the meaning of life, thereby decreasing psychiatric symptoms of worry and perceived stress.
Bring it to your life
- Find a logotherapist in your area and see if they align with your values and goals
- Try a journaling exercise on life purpose – you can start with these prompt questions, or find your own
- Read books on life purpose – some of our top picks are Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl, The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer, A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty, and Ikigai by Héctor Garcia and Francesc Miralles
The Bottom Line
We understand that infertility and stress often go hand-in-hand. But infertility doesn’t have to be a stressful or silent burden. If you’re suffering from the stress that comes with infertility, the first thing to do is to get curious about your own healing. Experiment and find what works for you, whether that be mindfulness, behavioural therapy, yoga, spiritual psychotherapy, or another method. The most important advice we can give you is to put your mental health first, because your well-being is the foundation for a healthy conception, pregnancy, and journey through parenthood and life.